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Making It as a Foreign Actress in the Big Apple

By Idil Tekelioglu

Acting is hard. That’s something all my actor friends and I can agree on; memorizing thousands of lines, breaking down the script, creating unique, living characters, and letting ourselves be completely vulnerable, naked. How about acting in another country, AND, in another language?

How about adding homesickness, adjusting to a whole different culture, and learning an entirely different dialect from yours to your plate? Doesn’t sound very appealing, does it? Well, welcome to my world!

Growing up watching movies and seeing lots and lots of plays as a kid, I fell in love with the idea of acting and getting away from my own reality to bring someone else to life. But my dreams were way bigger than just becoming an actor in my own country, they were way stronger, they belonged to the one and only city of my dreams; New York.

foreign actress

Therefore, at the age of 15, I started improving my English, considering it was fairly inadequate for me to study abroad, first through a website, then through courses and tutors. I took countless tests, eventually dove into the process of learning acting professionally, auditioned for acting schools in the city and got into 7. After all those years of dreaming and working incredibly hard day and night, there I was, in the middle of the Big Apple, on my own. I’m not going to lie to you, I’d always known that the path I’d chosen for myself wouldn’t be easy, for sure, but never had I thought it would’ve been THIS hard.

First, I had the issue with my accent.

Not that I had a very strong one, but I’d been told both by my teachers and friends that it would definitely limit my options as an actor, which was not something I’d come all the way from another continent, Turkey, to allow to happen. As a newbie and a drama student in the big city, I didn’t have much money to spare for dialect coaches or accent reduction classes, so I made my way to the Drama Book Shop, and grabbed every book and CD I could afford at the time.


I worked on every and each letter and sound, read out loud every night at the Rec Room at the dorms after school, and paid attention to teeny tiny details about how my friends were speaking. By the end of my second year, upon my graduation, I was able to audition for American parts, as well as the ones that required my accent. But that was only the beginning.

Secondly, I had an undeniable problem with auditioning.

We go into the building where we’re supposed to audition, see a bunch of actors waiting and running lines in the hallway who look like us, some agonizingly way better looking, and we go into the room when it’s our turn to do our best, crossing our fingers that maybe this time we’ll get the part. If you’re someone who’s dealing with anxiety, you’d know how hard this process could get; constantly putting yourself in front of strangers and pouring your heart out.

But for me, it was even harder, since I had to lose my accent for most of the parts I was auditioning, and on top of that, get a sense of the scene and the character in a very short amount of time. Thankfully, after auditioning and messing up a billion times, I came up with a few solutions that turned out to be very practical for me, such as memorizing every line instead of just being familiar with them, working on my accent first, reading tongue twisters to perfect my articulation, and then doing the actual work on my scene.

foreign actress

At the end of the day, after failing and trying over and over again, I got cast in many American parts in short films/web series, and even made my Off-Broadway debut with a theater company last summer.

Of course, no matter how much progress I’d made, I still messed up COUNTLESS auditions, hence missed countless opportunities. But what really matters is, I made it.

I made it possible for me to act not only for one single type of role, but many. The only way we learn is by making mistakes and overcoming the obstacles that we encounter on our way. So, for those of you reading this who are from another country pursuing work in America, I hope you don’t feel alone in this extraordinary journey. If you ever do, just remind yourself that anything worthwhile in this world takes a great deal of patience, and you can do anything you want you put your mind to!

foreign actress

Also On TheatreArtLife:

An Entertainment Career: Staying Tough and Moving Sideways

Handling Rejection and Notes on Your Creative Work

 

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